The suit, filed in federal court in September by former assistant principal Rachel Charlton, former teachers Yolanda Calhoun and Shyrone Stith, and former student J.C. Calhoun, claimed Lemmon and FCPS violated federal civil rights and anti-discrimination laws.
A message sent to Bailey’s families May 5 by Fabio Zuluaga, FCPS assistant superintendent for Region 2, states, the “lawsuit has been dismissed with no finding of any discrimination or inappropriate conduct by the school board or Ms. Lemmon.”
That’s not the complete story, however, according to sources close to the lawsuit who wish to remain anonymous. The case was not dismissed by the judge. In fact, the judge previously denied several FCPS requests to dismiss the case.
The plaintiffs voluntarily agreed to dismiss the case, and while it’s true there was no finding of wrongdoing on the part of Lemmon or FCPS, that’s because there was no opportunity to address wrongdoing. The litigation ended before the fact-finding phase.
FCPS wholeheartedly supported Lemmon throughout the case. “Fairfax County Public Schools and Superintendent Garza stand behind Principal Lemmon and endorse her continued, outstanding leadership and tireless work on behalf of the students of Bailey’s Elementary School,” Zuluaga’s message continues. “We are also very grateful to the Bailey’s faculty and staff for maintaining the positive focus on student learning while this issue was being resolved.”
Based on conversations with people close to the case, it is believed that the plaintiffs simply could not afford the legal costs of continuing with the lawsuit and settled out of court – although there is no official confirmation of a settlement. It’s also believed that if they say anything at all about the case, they will have to repay their settlement funds.
Stith and Yolanda and J.C. Calhoun had agreed to settle out of court months ago, but Charlton, who had the most complaints, hung on until the end of April. Five other people who had worked for Lemmon in the past had submitted letters to the court supporting the plaintiffs allegations stating that Lemmon had discriminated against them due to their race, religion, disability, or age. There were similar complaints against Lemmon when she was principal of Mount Vernon Elementary School, before her appointment at Bailey’s in November 2012.
FCPS had claimed in court that they were not legally liable for Lemmon’s actions, even if her behavior was rude and discriminatory, because they didn’t know about it. If someone in the future makes a similar complaint about Lemmon, FCPS won’t be able to make that argument because Lemmon’s alleged actions are spelled out in the court documents.
FCPS spent a huge amount of money, possibly up to $100,000, to defend Lemmon and sought a huge amount of documents from the plaintiffs, including many back years of medical records. One source calls that a “bullying tactic” and suggests that it could have a chilling effect on other potential whistleblowers with unrelated complaints against other school officials.
Charlton had formerly been on track to become a principal but is not expected to advance at FCPS and is now one of three assistant principals at Camelot Elementary School in Annandale. According to an observer, “she is being punished for trying to stand up for what was right.”
Camelot is a small school, with just 611 students. Most elementary schools of that size have just one assistant principal. Very few FCPS schools have three, even schools that are much larger. Bailey’s has three APs but that school has 1,480 students on two campuses, and well over half the students qualify for free or reduced-price lunches a majority have limited English proficiency.
“It’s ridiculous in a culturally diverse area like this that FCPS would allow this kind of discrimination to happen – and not only that but to support Marie Lemmon in such positive terms,” an observer says. “If this school had more active parents, we would have seen a different outcome.”